Starbucks may have won favor with lactose intolerant customers by adding almond milk to its menu, but it may have alienated another consumer base: those with nut allergies.
The company revealed this week that starting Sept. 6 the non-dairy alternative will be available in select, regional locations. A wider roll out to its 4,600 stores nationwide is targeted for the end of the month.
While customers with dairy allergies have rejoiced at the addition, those with nut allergies are concerned about cross-contamination behind the counter.
Food Allergy Research & Education, an organization that provides information about food allergies to the public, estimates that between 0.4 and 0.6 percent of Americans are allergic to tree nuts, or about 1.3 million to 1.94 million people.
"Any time new food allergens are introduced, or there is a presence of food allergens where meals or beverages are being prepared, there is a chance of cross-contact," Dr. James Baker, CEO and chief medical officer of FARE, told CNBC. "People with food allergies have to be vigilant at all times to safeguard against an allergic reaction. That means asking questions in restaurants and coffeehouses to ensure that servers and baristas understand the severity of food allergy and are able to take the measures necessary to avoid cross-contact."
Starbucks currently handles several allergens in its stores including dairy, soy, tree nuts, eggs and wheat, among others. The company noted that while it takes precautions to keep these ingredients separate, it cannot guarantee that its beverages and foods are allergen free because baristas use shared equipment to store and prepare its products.
"When we launch almond milk in September, we will take the opportunity to remind customers through in-store signage, including an allergen disclaimer on our menu boards and we will display a temporary statement at our counter near the register," a Starbucks spokeswoman told CNBC.